While the nursing profession is not typically regarded as a career for Jewish women, let alone for Jewish men, nursing “embraces many of Judaism’s central precepts and is consistent with Jewish text,” according to Ellen Olshansky, DNSc, RN, director of the Program in Nursing Science at the University of California, Irvine.
Olshansky, who came to Orange County in 2007 to head the program at UCI, added that nursing, especially public health nursing, is also compatible with Reform Judaism’s emphasis on social justice and social action. “A core value of nursing is caring and compassion,” she said in a paper she will be presenting this summer.
Olshansky is a women’s health nurse practitioner and a fellow in the American Academy of Nursing, co-chairing the Expert Panel on Women’s Health. She holds a doctorate in nursing science from the University of California, San Francisco School of Nursing. With a bachelor’s degree in social work, Olshansky is community oriented. She pointed out that many public health nurses have been community oriented, many immigrant Jews functioned informally as caregivers to the sick and many Jewish social workers – notably Henrietta Szold, the founder of Hadassah – understood the importance of nursing care.
Today, congregational nurses play important roles in caring for members of the synagogue, and Jewish nurses can play a key role in integrating spirituality into healthcare, Olshansky said. For her, being a Jew and being a nurse provide a rewarding path to performing mitzvot.
However, as Olshansky’s friend and colleague, Ellie Weinstein, who chairs the UCI nursing leadership council and worked to get an academic nursing school started at UCI, explained, “There is a perception that Jewish women don’t carry bedpans.” In addition, according to Olshansky, some people think of nursing as being rooted in Christianity.
Olshansky is championing the cause of struggling against these stereotypes and showing how nursing is consistent with core Jewish values. To that end, she is coordinating, along with Julia Lupton, the chair of the Department of Jewish Studies at UCI, and Michelle Prince, the executive director of the Kalsman Institute of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), a conference at UCI to look at the intersection between Judaism and health.
Sessions in of the “transdiscliplinary and cross-community conversation,” scheduled for April 24, from 12 to 5 at UCI, include a keynote addresss by Rabbi Elliot Dorff, Ph.D., chair of the Bioethics Department at American Jewish University; a roundtable with Olshansky, Prince and Rabbi Elie Spitz, spiritual leader of Congregation B’nai Israel in Tustin; and breakout sessions. Rabbis Richard Steinberg and Leah Lewis of Congregation Shir Ha-Ma’a lot will also be participants in the workshop.
Olshansky will also be a participant in a conference in Jerusalem in June, co-sponsored by Hadassah and Kalsman. Her message will be clear: nursing and tikkun olam go hand in hand.
JUDAISM & HEALTH
Tuesday, April 24,
12 to 5 p.m.
Rabbi Elliot Dorff, Ph.D., American Jewish University
Caring and Curing:
A Jewish Approach to How and Whom We Cure and Care For
Professor Ellen Olshansky, DNSc, RN, Director, Program in Nursing Science, UCI; Michele Prince, LCSW, MAJCS, Director, Kalsman Institute on Judaism and Health, Hebrew Union College; Rabbi Elie Kaplan Spitz, JD, co-author of Healing from Despair
Break Out Sessions
Choose between Jewish Meditation or Traditional Text Study
University of California, Irvine
Humanities Gateway 1030
Light lunch and refreshments.
Free and open to the public.
For more information,
contact Julia Lupton at
Ellen Olshansky at